Exclusive: Thousands of workers evicted in Qatar’s capital ahead of World Cup

  • The buildings housing the Asian and African workers are empty
  • Some residents were given two hours notice to leave their homes
  • The World Cup put Qatar’s treatment of workers in the spotlight

DOHA, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Qatar has emptied blocks of flats housing thousands of foreign workers in the same areas in central Doha where visiting soccer fans will stay during the World Cup, workers evicted from their homes told Reuters.

They said more than a dozen buildings had been evacuated and closed by authorities, forcing the mostly Asian and African workers to seek whatever shelter they could – including sleeping on the pavement outside one of their former homes.

The move comes less than four weeks before the Nov. 20 start of a global soccer tournament that has sparked intense international scrutiny of Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers and its restrictive welfare laws.

In one building that residents said housed 1,200 people in Doha’s Al Mansoura neighborhood, authorities told people around 8pm on Wednesday that they had just two hours to leave.

Municipal officers returned around 10:30 p.m., forced everyone out and locked the building’s doors, they said. Some men did not make it back in time to collect their belongings.

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“We have nowhere to go,” one man told Reuters the next day as he prepared to spend a second night with 10 other men, some shirtless in the Gulf Arab state’s autumn heat and humidity.

He, and most of the other workers who spoke to Reuters, declined to give their names or personal information for fear of reprisals from authorities or employers.

Nearby, five men were loading a mattress and a small refrigerator into the back of a pickup truck. They said they found a room in Sumaysimah, about 40 km (25 miles) north of Doha.

A Qatari government official said the evictions were unrelated to the World Cup and were designed “in line with ongoing comprehensive and long-term plans to reorganize the Doha area”.

“All have since been resettled in safe and appropriate accommodation,” the official said, adding that eviction requests “would be done with appropriate notice.”

World soccer’s governing body FIFA did not respond to a request for comment, and World Cup organizers in Qatar referred inquiries to the government.

“INTENTIONAL GHETTO-IZATION”

About 85% of Qatar’s three million inhabitants are foreign workers. Many of those evicted work as drivers, day laborers or have contracts with companies, but are responsible for their own housing – unlike those who work for large construction firms who live in camps housing tens of thousands of people.

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One worker said the evictions targeted single people, while foreign workers with families were not affected.

A Reuters reporter saw more than a dozen buildings where residents said people had been evicted. Some buildings are without electricity.

Most were in neighborhoods where the government rented buildings to house World Cup fans. The organizer’s website lists buildings in Al Mansoura and other districts where apartments are advertised for between $240 and $426 a night.

A Qatari official said municipal authorities were enforcing a 2010 Qatari law banning “labor camps within family residential areas” – a designation that covers most of central Doha – and giving them the power to evict people.

Some of the evicted workers said they hoped to find a place to live in purpose-built worker accommodation in and around the industrial zone on Doha’s southwestern outskirts or in outlying cities, far from work.

The evictions “keep Qatar’s glitzy and rich facade in place without publicly acknowledging the cheap labor that makes it possible,” said Vani Saraswathi, projects director of Migrant-Rights.org, which campaigns for foreign workers in the Middle East.

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“This is deliberate ghettoization at the best of times. But evictions without any notice are inhumane beyond reason.”

Some workers said they experienced serial evictions.

One said he was forced to change buildings in Al Mansoura at the end of September, only to be moved 11 days later without notice, along with around 400 others. “In one minute, we had to move,” he said.

Mohamed, a Bangladeshi driver, said he had lived in the same neighborhood for 14 years until Wednesday, when the municipality told him he had 48 hours to leave the villa he shared with 38 other people.

He said workers who built infrastructure for Qatar to host the World Cup were being pushed aside as the tournament approached.

“Who built the stadiums? Who built the roads? Who built everything? Bengalis, Pakistanis. People like us. Now they’re forcing us all out.”

(This story has been updated to clarify that the apartment blocks being vacated are in the same areas in Doha where visiting soccer fans will be staying during the World Cup, in the lead paragraph.)

Reporting by Andrew Mills; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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